Corporations, Courts, and Culture War

About the time of JFK’s assassination, U.S. Federal Courts began social engineering like men possessed.  Chief Justice Earl Warren mobilized the Judiciary to campaign for an ethereal Constitution as opposed to a written one.  Article I, section I, of the written Constitution states,

All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.

Notice the word “all;” also the omission of any words prescribing or implying legislation from the bench.  Furthermore, usurping or stealing power by elites bedecked in their black robes is contrary to the principles set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  Three times it mentions usurpation as justification for the American Revolution.

Yet today the basic direction of American society is decided more by courts than by the polarized and paralyzed U.S. Legislative Branch.  As has often been said, “Power abhors a vacuum.”  That a usurping Judiciary pushed into the void should surprise no realistic student of politics.

The role of the Federal courts as a battering ram in the culture war is a well-documented process covering the years 1962/63 to date.  A relatively recent case of judicial activism, took place on the eve of John Roberts’ September 2005 appointment as Chief Justice, [Kelo v. New London, Connecticut (6/23/2005)].  The Kelo decision tore down protections for small land holders against corporate developers.

As outgoing Justice O’Conner argued in her Kelo dissent:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.

Thus, government may now seize private property not just for public use — as in long-accepted eminent domain proceedings — but for private profiteering.  Our judicial oligarchs permit city hall to level your neighborhood or tear down your parish church, in order to make space for condos or a shopping mall or an office building.

The latest windfall for the wealthy concerned the prerogatives of voters as against corporations seeking to influence elections [Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010)].  Issued on January 21st of this year, the edict facilitates the manipulation of elections by curtailing restraints on corporate campaign financing.  Overturning longstanding limits on campaign contributions by transnational and domestic mega-corporations, the Court announced glibly that decades of restriction on big money had “‘muffled the voices that best represent the most significant segments of the economy.’”  Do not worry about public reaction, the Court comforted the moneyed class, for “the appearance of influence or access will not cause the electorate to lose faith in this democracy”  (Citizens United v. FEC, pages 5-6, 38).

Their reassurances notwithstanding, enhanced opportunity for the companies with large political war chests will certainly diminish populist influence in elections — whether progressive populism like some three million donors to the Obama campaign in 2008, or conservative populism like today’s Tea Party movement.  Populist efforts to upgrade morals in our culture on such issues as life, marriage and pornography will also be swamped by a tide of corporate spending.

Although the ethics at stake in this latest case of judicial usurpation were political /economic more than cultural, one of the “Catholic” Justices, Anthony Kennedy, could not refrain from a backhanded swipe at enforcement of morals.  Writing for the neoconservative majority (Citizens United v. FEC, p. 24), Kennedy put earlier efforts to censor pornography [citing US v. Playboy, 529 US 803 (2000)] on a par with censorship of political speech in the mass media when financed by mega-corporations.

This is characteristic of much neoconservative dogma favoring laissez faire capitalism.  After all Playboy, inc. is an American corporation, and the Court is obliged (they say) to put the free market at liberty to do its thing.  Too bad for you, O Christian citizen; because the oligarchy’s overriding ethic is to subject citizen/consumers to the moral sway of unrestrained capitalism with its driving force — the profit motive.

Mind you, the main culprits here are not businessmen themselves, but the big corporations in league with corruptible Federal officials.  As individuals, some CEOs are brave enough to go against the flow of corporate culture, and in such cases they may band together in organizations like Legatus.  With some 4500 Catholic business leaders internationally Legatus’ stated mission is to “study, live and spread the Faith in our business, professional and personal lives.”

It is obtuse and foolish, however, to look to corporate America generally as an ally in advancing the culture of life.  Pope John-Paul II addressed this problem after the fall of Marxism from power after the Revolution of ‘89.  While celebrating the demise of Communism in Europe, he warned also against the perils of capitalism, with its “viruses” like secularism, consumerism, and hedonism.  “Unfortunately,” said he in an understatement, “not everything the West proposes as a theoretical vision or as a concrete lifestyle reflects Gospel values.”

For example, big pharmaceutical cartels reap billions in profits by bilking us, the poor and the middle class, when we get sick.  One of their strategies is to oppose competition from less pricey pharmaceuticals in Canada, Latin America, and overseas.  During 2008, the two biggest American pharmas, Johnson & Johnson and Phizer/Wyeth, earned annual revenues totaling $135 billion.  These two American firms, and others not quite so large, have big bucks galore — enough to blitz Congress with an army of lobbyists advocating the equivalent of tariffs on prescription drugs.

As regards the tide of pornography that engulfs the nation, who has financed and pushed this obscenity upon our culture if not corporate America?  Annual pornography revenues have reached $13 billion / year in America [more than the combined revenues per annum of ABC, CBS, and NBC (2006 statistics)].  To be sure the courts adroitly opened the floodgates.  But it was CEOs like Hugh Heffner, Larry Flint and their followers who created the reeking tsunami.

Another sort of obscenity is the trade that rakes in profits by making other nations’ wars more destructive.  High tech corporations headquartered in the United States do a multi-billion dollar business every year in arms sales, making the USA the leading nation in the international arms trade.  Much of the exportation of American weaponry goes to countries labeled undemocratic by the U.S. State Dept., and often to third world countries.  The military-industrial complex, against which President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address, is now a pervasive and gargantuan reality.

Examples abound of why it is fallacious to see corporate America as inclined to assist in the restoration of Judeo-Christian standards.  Consider the likes of Ford Motors, Levi Strauss, Pepsi, US Bank, Wells Fargo, IBM, and Motorola.  These and a host of other large firms employ money and boardroom policy for the purpose of mainstreaming same-sex sodomy into the culture.  See, for example, the long list of powerful corporate partners in the national GLBT Chamber of Commerce.  Among the corporations working against traditional marriage in California (Proposition 8 ) were Apple Computers and Google.  Proponents for the GLBT agenda (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) are not so much small businesses, as politicized mega-corporations.

On the abortion front, Planned Parenthood is itself a billion dollar corporation.  Its funding comes in part from Warren Buffet, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Carnegie Corp. of New York, Chase Manhattan Corp., Hershey Corp., Prudential Insurance, and many such foundations financed by corporate America.

Corporate America frequently brings political power to bear against the interests of churches and religious citizens.  Like arsonists suddenly set at liberty in the Capitol Building, too many corporations are conflagrating what our Christian forefathers and foremothers took generations to build.

If we are to extinguish these fires, we cannot confuse friend with foe.  We the people must disabuse ourselves of the notion that corporate America is a likely ally in the fight against moral decline.  On the contrary, gigantic corporations and multinationals are intrinsically amoral.  Their overriding interest is the bottom line.  The impetus for a cultural upgrade must be sought elsewhere.


writer, retired history teacher, practicing cradle Catholic, lecturer for Knights of Columbus, council 1379. Knight of the Month, October 2008, February 2009.

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  • zatoichi

    Ah, corporate America, the source of all the evil in the world. Mr. Struble’s diatribe against corporations, although justified in part, ignores two fundamental points: first, it is corporate America and the capitalist system that built this country for the benefit of the poor, middle and upper classes. What is Mr. Struble’s alternative, a socialist system as we see in Europe? Second, corporations, as do all Americans, have a right under the First Amendment to speak freely: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. While there should be limits on free speech rights under certain circumstances, political speech has always been regarded as one of the most precious and protected of rights for obvious reasons.

  • Steve48224

    There’s a huge difference between “laissez faire” or “free market” capitalism and what America has today. Frankly put, there is no “free market” in America. Washington and the states control every aspect of every person’s life from conception to death, sun up to sun down.

    What we have today is “crony capitalism” or what some are calling “corporatism.”

  • There aren’t only two alternatives, capitalism and socialism. Our society as a whole, corporations, government, and citizenry together, have fallen into such profligate immorality that it may be best to give up and start over. We could build a truly Catholic society founded on the sacramental reality of Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection. We could take the examples of the Catholic Worker movement, the monastery and religious societies, and Church teaching on a just society and create, with God’s abundant help, something entirely new. It might look like the early Apostolic communities with technology, or it might just be a new thing under the sun. I don’t know, but I’d like to try.

  • Zatoichi wants to extend free speech rights, normally associated with citizenship, to corporations. “…corporations, as do all Americans, have a right under the First Amendment to speak freely.”

    But what about the fact that citizens can go to prison for their misdeeds, whereas corporations cannot? Since corporations cannot be held accountable in the same way as citizens, and since they are not people at all, how can corporations have the same rights under the First Amendment? The Constitution begins with the words, “We the People,” not we the corporations.

    Z. asks what alternative I propose to capitalism? I propose that it be retained in upgraded form, along the lines of Pope John Paul’s “economy for the people, not people for the economy.” (Laborem Exercens) One of the fundamental problems that cries out for a solution is chronic unemployment. See, for example, chapter 8 “Bolstering Workers: Structuring Full-Employment Into Capitalism,” in my online book

  • guitarmom

    The original case (Citizen’s United v. FEC)is important to keep in mind. Citizen’s United, a corporation that exists specifically to influence politics, made a film called “Hillary: The Moive.” But under the campaign laws then in effect, “Hillary: The Movie” could not be shown on the airwaves any time near the election.

    I hope we can agree that this was a clear restriction on free speech, and on political free speech at that. Citizen’s United is funded by little people like you and me who, yes, want to get a particular polital viewpoint to be aired. It was OUR rights that were being trampled, and this Supreme Court decision rectified that.

    will there be negative fallout? Certainly. But free political discourse is messy. Let’s cheer the messiness; it’s a whole lot better than governmentally-controlled, viewpoint-restricted tidiness.

  • goral

    I have closer experience with JP2’s admonition than most who post here. That is the reason that at times I also reference Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard Speech as an example of another reality and another view of the capitalist and secularist West.

    The unconditional defense and the ‘better than any other system devised by man’ arguments do not impress me. I equate them with the Jewish defense of their Law and tradition. As valid as it was it tragically missed the whole purpose, and so the “vineyard” was given to others. We will lose this great nation for the same reason. Government and business amorality is not the purpose of any society. We are enshrining this fraudulent concept and the profits of amorality are in windfall abundance. Even our catholic legislators and entrepreneurs are capitalizing on it.

    They are the reflection of who we are as a church and as a society – land of the free to do evil as long as it pays and is in line with the Law.

  • Goral: Good refutation of the ‘better than any other system devised by man’ line. That argument reminds me of Burke’s old saw about democracy being the worst form of government ever invented – “except for all the others.”

    In fact there is nothing democratic at all about having unelected, irremovable, life tenured judges decide our basic direction as a society. It renders moot the debate about whether the United States is a democracy or a republic. Under a judicial oligarchy it is neither.

  • Steve48224

    The criticism of life-time appointment for federal judges misses the fact that the US Congress can determine what issues are within the federal jurisdiction. All it takes is a majority vote of both houses and the president’s signature (or an over-ride of his veto).

  • Slteve48224: Your point is well taken, but with three provisos:
    1. An unreformed Congress is incapable of addressing the real needs of the country with wisdom and boldness. In its present corrupted condition the Congress is like the “vain battlers and deceivers” in Titus 1:10, 16, who are “worthless for any good work.”

    2. While, as you rightly point out, Congress does indeed have denial of jurisdiction as an arrow in its quiver (Article III, sect. 2); Congress has not used this provision with determination in many decades — and never since Earl Warren and his successors put the federal courts onto the path of egregious usurpation.

    3. And so the bow must be restrung (Congressional rotation in office and other reforms), and the aforesaid arrow sharpened, in order to restore the constitutional scheme of checks and balances.

    On how Article III, sect. 2 might be strengthened, “Curbing Court Usurpation,” in the 7th chapter of my online book,,%20Efficiency%20&%20Cuts.htm#Part1

  • Sorry, that’s “vain babblers and deceivers” in Titus 1:10.